Berman & Asbel, LLP

Estates and philanthropic donations

Sotheby's announced that an auction of the contents of Brooke Astor's two homes resulted in over $18.8 million. Astor is a noted philanthropist and was awarded the U.S.' highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1998. Her husband, Vincent Astor, left her his fortune, and charged her to "use it where it would do the most to alleviate human misery."

However, as in many cases of the estates of the very wealthy, there was a family dispute over Mrs. Astor's property. The estate settlement was made in March, five years after her death, and freed up $100 million for charities, while her only son -- who was convicted of taking advantage of his mother in her dementia, including manipulating her will -- was given half of what the will called for. The proceeds of the auction will go to charities, as well as institutions such as the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Most people don't have $100 million to donate to their local library, nor will their engagement ring sell at auction for $1.2 million. However, designing a will to be philanthropic in nature is an option for any person. In many cases, even a small financial gift will be of great benefit to charities and institutions.

Planning the division of one's property ahead of time is an indispensible decision. It can prevent the long battles in litigation, as well as give the person planning their estate the ability to know where and how their assets will be taken care of. Philanthropic donation is a great option for people who do not have a close family member to hand it over to, and can benefit their community as well.

Source: The Washington Post, "NYC auction of the contents of philanthropist Brooke Astor's homes fetches $18.8M," Sept. 25, 2012

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